Free Things to Do in Milwaukee

Pints of beer at brewery


Beer Town Offers More Than Great Brews

Milwaukee celebrates its reputation as a historic beer brewing hot spot, but its parks, premier trail network, cultural events and architecture also identify the city as a modern metropolitan center. This Lake Michigan coastal town offers a diversity of options to enjoy some of the finest free attractions in the Midwest.

Tour a Brewery Legend

You probably never wondered what a half-million cases of beer looks like. You’ll find out on the Miller Brewing Company’s (4251 W. State St., Milwaukee, WI) guided tour. Sampling is limited to adults, but kids get a kick from observing the manufacturing process.

Milwaukee’s history as a leading beer town comes to life at the expansive campus which includes a replica of Frederic Miller’s original brewery. The hour-long walking tour begins at the visitor center with a short film. You’ll see modern beer technology in action, the packaging and shipping centers and the distribution center where the sight of those half-million cases will give you something to write home about. The tour also stops at Miller Caves where beer was stored in the early days of the company. At the final tour stop, adults receive generous beer samples, and younger guests can get soft drinks. Enjoy the beverages at the Bavarian-style inn or outdoor beer garden, depending on the season and your preference. Be sure to wear walking shoes, as the tour covers a lot of ground. Although hours are seasonal, tours run every 30 minutes on most days.

Take in Art Along the River

Milwaukee nostalgia and television history come together along downtown’s ArtWalk, a section of the roughly two-mile RiverWalk following the Milwaukee River. The outdoor sculpture gallery features 20 installations by local, state and national artists. Kids love the freedom to touch and run around the art. Just south of Wells Street in the downtown district stands the Bronze Fonz, one of the walk’s most popular sculptures. It’s a life-size statue of Henry Winkler’s Fonzie character from the sitcom “Happy Days,” a show set in 1950s Milwaukee. The RiverWalk provides other points of interest worth checking out, including historic Old Town with its European-style architecture. The Third Ward section is known for its galleries and theaters, while the Beerline segment showcases Brewers Hill, the elite address for Milwaukee’s past beer barons. While there are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat, it’s also possible to bring sandwiches, find a bench along the river and enjoy a family picnic. You can’t beat the free view.

Beach It

When summer temperature’s rise, Milwaukee families flock to Bradford Beach, the area’s largest and most popular Lake Michigan swimming and sunbathing beach. The public area spans more than 28 acres and features an expansive golden sand beach, sand volleyball, a bath house and concessions. There’s no entrance fee, but you might want to spring for an umbrella or cabana rental. The beach is a relaxing spot from which to watch sailboats, windsurfers and jet skiers glide across the sparkling inland sea.

Lake Michigan can be fickle and sometimes dangerous. It’s a good idea to go between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. from mid-June through early August when lifeguards are on duty. Be aware that inflatables are prohibited on the water during guarded hours. You’ll want to arrive early in the morning to take advantage of the best free parking spots.

Tackle Oak Leaf Trail

Bike, walk or jog your way through Milwaukee along the Oak Leaf Trail. The 118-mile trail loop winds in and around the city connecting multiple parks and neighborhoods and making it possible to adapt a journey to your time considerations and family’s abilities. It’s a showcase for the city’s historic architecture, old rail corridors and natural beauty. The Milwaukee Art Museum (700 N. Art Museum Dr., Milwaukee, WI) is a good place to hop on the trail system. The location serves as a crossroads with north and south links and nearby access to east and west pathways. There’s trailhead parking here, if you need it.

Most of the Oak Leaf is paved for easy exploring by foot or bicycle; in fact, city streets account for more than 25 trail miles. About one-fourth of the system traces the gorgeous Lake Michigan shoreline. In autumn, the coast offers remarkable scenery when colorful fall vegetation contrasts with the sparkling blue waters for a priceless view.

Walk Among the Angels

Prepare for magnificence when you enter the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. Josaphat (2333 S. 6th St., Milwaukee, WI). From the windows, walls and dome, saints and angels surround you in the form of murals, stained glass and sculptures telling Christian stories. Images teach kids how art was used to teach and inspire people. The third basilica in the United States, St. Josaphat’s was completed in 1901 and still stands as one of the most beautiful churches in the country. The house of worship located in the Lincoln Village neighborhood is a designated Milwaukee landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. Enjoy a self-guided tour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Exhibits depicting the building’s history are located on the lower level. Pick up a brochure from the visitor center to help navigate the building, art and architecture. Guided tours take place Sundays following the 10 a.m. mass.